Finding out your hero on a pedestal has clay feet is never easy.
After a case involving a dark party and a twisted foe, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit tackled a major soccer star accused of assault.
The episode marked the promotion of Molly Burnett as a regular in the opening credits.
As with any case involving a celebrity, the SVU team was put in a tough spot with pressure from the media and higher-ups.
Complicating matters was the refusal of some past victims to come forward as Velasco realized the hard way how his supposed sports hero wasn’t that nice a guy.
That broken trust was also felt by an aide horrified to realize how his friend had taken advantage of him in the worst way, making Dead Ball a rough game for the SVU team to solve.
A tricky case kicks off
In a townhouse, Paulo Rocha (Michael Ocampo) talked to his manager about a new deal worth $50 million. His manager assured him he was ready for the big time.
At a bar, Velasco watched a soccer game as Rocha scored a winning goal. After the game, Paulo returned to his hotel but was annoyed that the defense was being credited for the win. He wanted to go on some dates but was told he had an interview first.
Paulo changed his mind when he met reporter Nellie Kramer (Cameron Kelly). He was soon turning on the charm with the interview. She pressed him on his selfish reputation as he told managers Antonio Campos (Jonathan Medina) and Tim Mondale (John Patrick Hayden) to leave.
Paulo talked to her as Nellie brought up they’d met before when she was just a fan years ago in London. He thought it was fate bringing them back together.
Nellie was soon storming out of the hotel room, putting her clothes back together and insulting Paulo. He saw Campos staring and gave him a look, with Campos nodding back.
Nellie told Benson and Rollins that Paulo had assaulted her. She played a tape where she begged him to stop, but he refused. She complained men like that took what they wanted as they promised to help.
Velasco was surprised to hear Paulo was a culprit, while Muncy pointed out that the media attention would make this a mess. At the hotel, Velasco and Muncy discussed the old “football vs. soccer” debate as they pressed the manager for the security footage.
Paulo and his handlers talked to Rollins and Fin, with Paulo denying he’d assaulted her. They claimed the tape didn’t prove anything and that Nellie didn’t tell the cops she and Paulo had known each other before, with Paulo claiming it was a serious one.
They saw the video, which seemed to back Nellie’s story, but they had to figure out her background. Paulo had already posted an interview claiming he’d broken it off with Nellie when she became too clingy.
Nellie was ready to return to England, revealing she’d had Paulo’s son. She had wanted to let the world know who Paulo was but underestimated the reach as someone was already following her son, and he was threatening to sue for custody. She refused to help more as her son came first.
Taking a run at a sports stalker
While understanding Nellie’s actions, the team figured Paulo had to have done something like this before, and likely his club hushed it up.
Muncy mentioned Paulo had been married to a TV actress for two years and had received a big divorce settlement. Muncy and Fin visited Simone
Rocha (Danielle Marie Gonzalez) at her mansion, who acknowledged the settlement was to keep some of Paulo’s actions quiet.
Simone knew Paulo had cheated on her but didn’t care because of the money and wouldn’t talk about him. However, Muncy talked to Simone’s mother, who had caught Paulo cheating a few times, including with a yoga teacher.
The teacher, Ebony Jones, had been fired for threatening to sue Simone. Fin used his charms on a clerk to get the clerk to talk about the lawsuit, which was actually against Paulo. It turned out he’d been sued a dozen times for sexual assault in civil cases, with the latest just two days earlier.
Soon, the detectives talked to scores of women, all sharing Paulo’s attacks on them, but all had signed NDAs as part of settlements.
As Fin and Benson discussed the case, McGrath interrupted, upset that Benson was going after such a heavy hitter. He yelled that SVU was badgering witnesses, and McGrath was getting pressure to let this drop.
Paulo actually used the “profiling” line in this investigation, as Paulo said he admired Nellie. Benson asked if Paulo was innocent, why not let the cops do their jobs.
He answered, “When there are mosquitos buzzing around, I just swat them away.”
Benson said they were running out of time to prove anything on Paulo. They discovered that Paulo had been taking out secret payments from his account that he was hiding from his own people.
Velasco and Muncy followed Paulo to an alley where he met Antonio’s wife, Marcia (Diana Coconubo), who took a payoff in an envelope.
Making the final goal
Fin and Rollins talked to Marcia, who refused to talk. Her daughter came out to help her as Fin and Rollins knew she was hiding something.
Muncy showed a photo of the Campos’ daughter, Ana (Amanda Paige Philipson), who was on many Instagram posts with her. But as soon as she turned 16 in 2021, right at the time the payments began, nothing of her and Antonio was posted.
Posing as a fan, Muncy met Ana, who said she and Antonio had a brief fling even though she was underage at the time.
Rollins and Fin met Antonio, who was shocked to hear of the payments. He was more shocked to hear of his daughter and Paulo being together, and Paulo was paying Marcia to keep it quiet.
Velasco admitted he’d been a fan of Paulo as Rollins asked, “you think your daughter would be off-limits to a man who has none?” Antonio was outraged that after all he’d done to protect Paulo, this was how he repaid him.
Antonio came to see Paulo, wearing a wire. He brought up their past as friends and how Paulo had once been the one in Antonio’s shadow. He said the cops were going to keep looking as Paulo claimed to be a safecracker. “You don’t blow up the safe with dynamite, you listen to the clicks.”
As Paulo went on about how easy it was to get any woman into bed, Antonio couldn’t contain himself and brought up Ana and the payments. He demanded that Paulo confess and attacked him as Paulo admitted what he’d done, and Ana had come on to him.
Hearing Paulo say Antonio should be “proud” of his daughter, Antonio came back with a gun as he finally saw Paulo for what he was. He fired the gun as the cops raced in.
Antonio had just scared Paulo with the shot as the cops came in to arrest them. He also revealed how he’d helped the cops and remembered it was Antonio who had taken everything from him.
Paulo was threatened with statutory rape as his lawyer tried to argue Ana would never testify. Benson refused a deal and told Antonio he was looking at third-degree rape and “try to swat that away.”
Antonio was only charged with reckless endangerment as Marcia kept the money for Ana. Muncy noted it was hard for Velasco to see his hero crumble, but he handled it to give her a soccer ball for some banter.
Benson talked to Ana, who said she had wanted this. Benson told her she’d been taken advantage of and needed to grow.
Ana was unsure as Benson told her no one has their life figured out at 17 and learning slower was better.
It was a trickier case against a media star as it also served as a reminder of putting too much faith in a hero.
Law & Order: Special Victims Unit Season 24 airs Thursdays at 9/8c on NBC.More: Law & Order: Special Victims Unit